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What do you believe about suffering?

Hello, I’m doing a project on what atheists believe on the aspects of suffering, and so apologise for the amount of questions!
What do you believe about suffering? Why do you think we suffer; do you think we suffer for a reason, or as a punishment?
How do you cope with suffering? When you suffer, do you break down or do you cope with it well? What do you do when you suffer? Do you believe there is anything we can do in our lives to prevent suffering? Or do you just think it’s fate? Why don’t you believe in God? What is contained in your atheist’s bible?
Thank you for your time in answering these questions.

Posted: November 6th 2007

brian thomson www

A copy of the Atheist Bible was leaked to the Internet last summer: you can find it here.

Since it’s no longer a secret, please read it from cover to cover before any further questions. It should take you about three minutes.

PS: why do believers always ask “why don’t you believe in God?” It’s a bit hard for me to believe in something that, you know, doesn’t exist…

Posted: December 17th 2007

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flagellant www

Suffering happens for a reason, not always understood at the time e.g. the black death in the middle ages. As we acquire more (scientific) knowledge – of bacterial and viral infection from vermin, for example – we find ways to avoid/prevent illness. We can forecast storms, tsunamis, and many other potential catastrophes and avoid them. (Whether we do or not in practice is another matter.) We can treat many medical complaints, and we’re getting closer to being able to predict earthquakes accurately. In days gone by, the suffering from these phenomena would have been attributed, by many people, to a divine entity. Having solved many problems, it’s clear that superstitious explanations are manifestly wrong. So, to think of suffering as punishment is to embrace a medieval mindset. Of course, there are trivial ways in which suffering can be a punishment: the man who deliberately fails to take his anti-malarial drugs and then catches malaria is being punished for his negligence. The agency, if any, is himself.

Coping I do not remember any suffering during my early life. Later on, as a fully-fledged atheist, I underwent life-threatening surgery, without a qualm, relying on surgical skill. It never crossed my mind to be frightened nor to backslide nor to pray. Had I been visited by a clergyman beforehand, I would have spent my time trying to convert him to atheism! The post-operative pain was alleviated using powerful painkillers, I always knew that the pain would lessen, and I was certain that my quality of life would improve. It did.

To cope with suffering, it’s important to understand it merely as a problem, and to do the right thing. I found out as much as I could before surgery and I have often been asked since to explain about the procedures and describe my experiences, mostly to nervous patients. Knowledge, I find, drives out fear, and that applies to unplanned, unforeseen suffering, too.

At the individual level, we can look for reasons for suffering. Suffering is no longer something to be borne stoically to propitiate an imaginary being. In most cases it can be alleviated if it hasn’t already been avoided using knowledge. There are some things we just don’t know but, in the long run, humans will solve most of the problems of suffering and leave fewer and fewer areas for superstitious nonsense to take hold. The answer 'I/we don’t know’ is quite reasonable, for the moment. One day, we’ll know more.

Why I don’t believe in God See here .

I don’t have an atheist’s bible. It may sound odd, but I have access to much of the sum total of human knowledge. It’s far, far better than any atheist’s bible and infinitely better than any religious drivelling… I hope this helps.

Posted: November 17th 2007

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SmartLX www

I think that everything happens for a reason, but that the reason can always potentially be found. If you meet a beautiful woman on a train, it’s because you both wanted to travel in the same direction. If a piano falls on your head, it’s because some murderer, or idiot, or frayed rope, dropped the thing. This is not always the same as something happening for a purpose. Purpose only comes from living beings.

We have developed pain receptors, negative emotions and other tools with which to involuntarily suffer because suffering brings our attention to the fact that something is wrong.

This has always been advantageous to our survival and prosperity. If a lion bites your arm, the pain will alert you and give you a chance to find a weapon with the other arm, or simply run. If your spouse or child is missing or injured, you feel the agony of having failed in your self-appointed responsibility to protect them, whether or not you are really to blame. Family solidarity strengthens. The suffering itself has no purpose, but knowing its source is of use to us.

When I suffer I know there’s a reason, but I also know that there’s no ultimate purpose for it, or to rephrase, no reason why I should continue to suffer. My suffering is a symptom of some situation I may be able to change. So I try to change it.

Fate’s a separate thing altogether. I don’t know whether the future is predetermined by the current state of the universe, or randomly selected by quantum movements, or partly both. Who cares? If I don’t know the future, why worry whether my actions change it or are part of it? There’s no practical difference to me.

Finally, there’s no fundamental atheist text, which is why there’s no such thing as a fundamentalist atheist. There are no rules imposed by atheism, only those inherent in human nature. And that’s all I need to live well.

Posted: November 15th 2007

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George Locke

What do you believe about suffering? Why do you think we suffer; do you think we suffer for a reason, or as a punishment?

I don’t believe in karmactic 'reap the whirlwind’ type scenarios. Our actions have consequences, so if I don’t go out and work then I’ll find myself homeless. However, I might randomly fall victim to a neurochemical imbalance that hampers my mental faculties and costs me my job, house, friends… Suffering is something you can work to prevent, but you can’t always win.

How do you cope with suffering? When you suffer, do you break down or do you cope with it well? What do you do when you suffer?

Usually if I’m angry or upset I make music or draw or do yoga or something, and that calms me down. I certainly don’t 'break down’. This handles the immediate emotional response to crisis, but usually there is work to be done to remove the cause of the crisis. Analyzing the problem and determining a solution (to the extent that one can be found) are key steps in dealing with suffering. Knowing that you did your best is helpful so you don’t beat yourself up about allowing problems to continue. (Incidentally, this is one of the problems I have with Christ, who occasionally encourages you to allow yourself to be exploited, as in the sermon on the mount where he said, “offer no resistance to one who is evil”. I say, fight against those who would trample upon your liberty.)

Do you believe there is anything we can do in our lives to prevent suffering? Or do you just think it’s fate?

I think I more or less answered the first question. Certainly there is nothing you can do which will render you immune to any suffering. One can take steps to prepare for adversity, obviously. As to fate, the word is usually used to mean either random happenstance or unavoidable destiny. The latter is a fiction, and the former is just nature.

Why don’t you believe in God?

See answers to this question here. There is no evidence or argument for God, the God hypothesis does not explain the world better than material explanations, God is more complicated and therefore vanishingly unlikely compared to those material explanations.

What is contained in your atheist’s bible?

Is there a specific book you’re referring to? If you wish to expand this into another question and resubmit, then you might get some meaningful responses. There is no “atheist’s bible”.

Posted: November 9th 2007

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logicel

Living creatures have evolved various ways to identify and avoid danger, pain is one of them. I regard suffering as an impetus to solve its causes. For example, being exposed to cold hurt; thusly, we discovered ways to clothe ourselves and heat our living spaces.

When I personally suffer, I do my best to identify the cause and find a solution, using my existing knowledge base and my ability to research the topic further; but most importantly I use my own creativity. I will seek help from professionals if necessary (psychiatrist, dentist, plumber(!), etc.) At the same time, I accept my new reality and realize that I may have to adapt to a less than perfect situation.

The application of sound knowledge can help prevent suffering. I do not believe in fate; to me, fate is just a secular God. However, I do accept my limitations as a human which includes my mortality.

Regarding suffering as a punishment for sin was conceived before we had any clear understanding of science. Bad things can happen to anyone, because such a situation is simply possible. It is astounding how science has already identified such bad things like virulent germs and created vaccines and antibiotics to combat them.

I don’t believe in God, because I have no need nor desire to entertain such a non-evidential belief.

Posted: November 7th 2007

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